It was a beautiful and warm night for Canada Day celebrations.

El Día de Canadá en Antigonish
It seems like the whole town's out to celebrate Canada Day.
I found that Canada Day in a small town in the Maritimes means knee-slapping country music, fireworks, and real Canadian pride. =)

It was especially cool seeing the Africans dancing along to the country music as well. Music is universal!

A big part of this trip is reassessing myself. What does it mean, for example, to be Canadian? In Japan, I often brushed off the question by focusing on Canada’s multiculturalism. We’re so diverse that we don’t really have a common way of being, acting, or believing, I’d say. Upon reflection though, I think my answer stemmed more from ignorance.

Today we had a full orientation for the Coady participants who arrived through the past weekend including some skits on life here in Canada. We did some role-playing to introduce them to some Canadian conventions that may be different from the norms in their country – greetings such as “how are you” or “see you later” that shouldn’t be taken too literally, the important of showing up (generally) on time instead of too late or too early, and paying the price on the tag instead of bargaining. An eye-opener for me is that we, as Canadians, may greet someone’s dog before the owner (e.g. “What a cute little puppy you are!”) and we may not even address the owner at all. I mean, I know we do that, but how weird are we to do so?!

This wasn’t addressed in the skits, but on a more personal level, I’ve come to the conclusion that the notion of “me time” might be a Canadian or North American attitude as well. I was having a difficult time last week because I felt like I had no “me time” – I was taking classes with the other interns, eating with the other interns, and spending the rest of my time with the other interns living at the dorm together. Many families or groups around the world (as in the orphans in the Stephen Lewis film on grandmothers in Africa and even my mother’s family when she was growing up) don’t place such high value on independence, privacy, or “me time,” if at all.

Some of the reasons I was attracted to this internship included wanting to gain that broader perspective, which I hope will provide motivation for me to simplify my lifestyle, and wanting to serve, which entails putting others before myself. I realized, after talking to my mom, that I shouldn’t be waiting until I arrived in Peru to start working towards these goals. So, I made a conscious decision to change my attitude and welcome the nearly-24/7 group atmosphere. When I started taking the time to just be with others, not only was I learning more from them and about them, but I was also learning a lot more about myself, about being a group member, about socializing and networking. Here’s my chance to practice and soak up tips on improvisation, being witty, and being a good journalist (e.g. asking good questions).

I finally have a key to my room (as of yesterday) and I’m starting to feel like I’m really here, in a new province, away from home. I’ve been exploring the town and meeting the locals on my runs, walks with friends, at the gym, and around campus. The 50 Coady Diploma participants from all over the world are trickling in and I’ve already met:

  • the pastor from India, Father Paulson
  • the Argentinian with the Russian accent who has worked in Macau for the last 10 years
  • the Sudanese who swims naked in rivers (because that’s what they do in South Sudan), and
  • the dude from Malawi who was all decked out in a tourist-y shirt and baseball cap with “Malawi” splashed across the front (“Hi, I’m Alex from Malawi,” he says as I shake his hand)

When else would I ever get the chance to chat with, eat lunch with, and take three weeks of workshops and classes with fifty international/community development specialists from all over the world? They’re here for six months for Coady’s development leadership diploma program, but we as interns still get to sponge up as much as we can from them before we head out to our NGOs. When else would I ever get to do this? I am continually challenged to engage in serious, intellectual, political, philosophical conversations on topics that I’ve never even thought about most of the time – other interns are always recommending books to read (notably, Race Against Time by Stephen Lewis) or watching and discussing movies on developing countries in the common room just across from my bedroom. I feel like I can’t keep up! =P

Today is my first day off and I have a lot of catching up to do in terms of both internship-related errands and in this blog. I have so many things I want to post about that I could write a novel on the past week, but I should probably be time-efficient and just get them out in a list of random rambling notes. I figure it’s most important to just get them down so I don’t forget. Then I can come back to reflect upon these ramblings later and talk about them more in depth when I get back home next year and get the chance to meet with you guys in person! =)

Ramblings…

  • I had no idea that when people travel, they have a higher risk of engaging in risky sexual behaviour.
  • We met the president of StFX who shared some insights and advice on his travels during a lunch with Coady staff. Later, we hear through the gossip mill about what he can be like outside of his presidential role. Only in a small town…! And speaking of small towns – my fantasy of living in a place like Antigonish has been tainted a little as I inadvertently hear more gossip and begin to see how complicated relationships can be here. Imagine having a limited crop of potential suitors, knowing who everyone has slept with, and having everyone know about your nasty break-ups!
  • I am so lucky that I have the ability to run. Two of the interns are beautiful and lean ladies, but can’t run anymore because of physical injuries. One was injured just before the triathlon she had signed up for after having been training for many months!
  • Advice from a former intern: as a female, if you feel unsafe (e.g. at night in a dangerous part of Africa), approach a sex worker. What a powerful bond there is that connects women from all walks of life.
  • Kim’s (the internship program coordinator) philosophy is to squeeze learning opportunities out of every situation. For example, the fact that we don’t have our visas yet? Patience and trust in the system.
  • Turn judgment into curiosity. For example, if my NGO has a very roundabout system that seems inefficient, turn the frustrated “Why the heck would they do it this way?” attitude into a pondering “I wonder why they do it this way?” outlook. Look into their iceberg and see the “invisible”/below the surface reasons for their thoughts, actions, and behaviours. Now that I think about it, I guess this goes for any interaction, not just cross-culturally.
  • From the sounds of it, development work seems to consist of a lot of planning and reporting, especially when it comes to funding. On a completely separate note, there are also a million acronyms used in this field. Do you know what NGO, CBO, ASRHR, OVC, and PLWA stand for?
  • We received our work plans, which were developed last year (because that’s when the funding applications were due). It will be a true test of flexibility and my confidence/trust in my own abilities when we get to our host countries because things will most likely not follow these plans, if at all. I guess that’s what life is like.
  • Coady’s philosophy is centred around Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), capacity building (thanks for explaining this to me, Crystal!), with the view that these communities already work. Our role is to assist these communities in identifying their assets instead of their needs or “what’s missing” (a very paternalistic attitude).
  • It will be difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the experience we will have and/or the difference we’re going to make. Change is ongoing, can be internal, and will hopefully continue beyond the time period of out internships, particularly because sustainability is a fundamental theme of all of these projects.
  • The more I learn, the more questions I have instead of answers. Development work seems to be an ongoing discussion, as is research, as is morals and ethics, as is determining what it means to live a good life.
  • I feel that I’m really good at making eye contact with people, but I start looking away when I’m speaking to people as I try to formulate my words.
  • If you find yourself riding in the back of the truck, choose the spot closest to the driver.
  • I love how in many parts of the world, fat is beautiful.
  • Has anyone ever heard of “sex bracelets”? I think a certain number or colour of bracelets signifies how much sex you’ve had!
  • I’ve been writing down all the things I want to blog about so that I don’t forget, but there are already three to four notes that I’ve made that seem completely foreign to me now. Bah!

People that I want to remember

  • Cassie’s boyfriend came to visit and we met his friends Mory from the Ivory Coast (in West Africa) and Thesfaye from Ethiopia. It’s weird to think that French is the national language of the Ivory Coast.
  • Joseph from Tanzania.

Joseph’s living at our dorm right now and was in Halifax to present at a conference on the radio station that he and his colleagues have started up in the rural Kagawe region. People in Kagawe are in so much poverty that many still don’t have toilets, need to carry water from so far away, and need to grow their own crops despite not being educated as farmers. It is through radio that he’s been able to reach out to the rural communities, broadcasting on issues such as agro-forestry, health, and sanitation. I had a chat with him this morning about how this first trip to Canada has been an eye-opening experience for him. He thought he was making a difference when he planted 500,000 trees in his home country, until he saw all the trees that we have here in Canada. It just goes to show that we often think we know, we understand, we’ve tried our hardest, we’ve made a difference, until we open our eyes a little wider and take in the rest of the world.

I asked Joseph if he ever felt like giving up. Wouldn’t he? After seeing how much more he needs to do, how many more trees he has to plant, how much more work he has to do to educate the people of his country – wouldn’t it be so easy to get lost in the sheer magnitude of the task? He told me three things:

  1. Use only what you need. He had visited CBC in Ottawa, was given a tour, saw the rows and rows of cubicles and equipment, but instead of feeling overwhelmed with all that he still needed to do with his tiny radio station in Tanzania, he thought about how he had everything he needed. There were some pieces of equipment that he would like to have, but he was striving for one cubicle’s worth of equipment, not to become like the entire CBC station.
  2. Patience. It took him 15 years to get his radio station up and running and it started with a little collection of resources that turned into a library that turned into a newsletter that turned into information boards that turned into a radio station.
  3. Be a catalyst. We could drown in thinking about all the little things that could still be done/changed, but if we take the broader perspective and view ourselves instead as a catalyst for change, it almost feels as if we can make a substantial difference in the world.

We spent a big chunk of yesterday designing our “road map” in a poster format, laying out the major events in our life that have brought each of us together in this blip of time. As we talked about each of our paths, the pit stops, and detours we also shared the challenges we faced and reflected upon what we had learned. I’ve been telling others that one of the personal reasons I’m going on this trip is because I want to “grow up,” in the broadest sense of the term. I’m still trying to figure out what that means. But it was nice to step back, look at that snapshot of my life, and come to the realisation that I have already “grown up” a lot. It was a reminder that I should take some time to reflect on the occurrences of my life, especially all the random moments that I’m soaking up while I’m here in Antigonish and will be experiencing in Peru – not just to remind myself how far I’ve come, but also so that I’m continually thinking about what I can learn and how I can grow from these moments.

Off to a day-long workshop on HIV/AIDS! I’ll finally get a break after today and will have time to do a real post!

Insights

Ohmigoodness! Thank you so very much for posting comments, guys! It totally makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside (i.e. I really feel the support).

Today we began a two-day workshop with a facilitator from the Canadian government’s Centre for Intercultural Learning (CIL). All internships funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) have this two-day preparatory workshop, but most only have these two days before being sent off to their host countries so I’m glad we have an entire month to get in the groove. I’m so happy to have these opportunities to discuss cross-cultural issues, especially because I feel a little bit like the underdog without a background in international development. It’s especially exciting to engage in discussions with the other interns because they’re so well-traveled, well-read, and have well-developed opinions but are still very open-minded.

We played a card game in the beginning that really initiated a lot of discussion. First, we sat in three groups and each group got a set of instructions to the card game – unbeknownst to us, each of three groups received a different set of instructions. During the game, we weren’t allowed to talk to each other and the trouble started when we had to rotate players. Without communication, the “new” member of each group had to figure out that there were different rules at their new table. It was supposed to be a microcosm of dealing with intercultural issues and it was interesting to see the different approaches people had. Some were laid back and just went with the flow even though they were confused that the rules were suddenly different and some tried to implement the rules of their original table even though everyone else at the new table were playing by a different set of rules.

I remember that at my table, one of the girls was trying to show us her way of playing the game even though the rest of the members of the table were playing by a different set of rules. I had the urge to take over and explicitly show her the rules of the table, but another guy at the table took a different approach before I could act. He has a really laid back personality and compromised by splitting up his “winning” cards between himself and the other girl to appease her. It was such a simple act that I hadn’t even thought of. I guess, sometimes, the best thing to do is to take it easy. There isn’t only one right way to do things and we certainly can’t be going to Peru with even the slightest attitude of superiority, assuming that our methods are somehow better than their existing way of living. No matter how many times I am reminded of this, I seem to continually catch myself in moments when I am subconsciously trying to enforce my beliefs, opinions, or ways of behaving. It helps that I am continually humbled by the other interns in this group.

I was talking to my sister yesterday night and realized that the tension and anxiety I’ve been feeling (and probably the reason that I’ve been having a hard time sleeping) is because this whole experience is really outside my comfort zone. Engaging in discussion on issues I’m really not familiar with, trying to delve deep into my limited life experience to produce relevant and insightful comments (this rarely happens). Being a “group member” almost 24/7 as we are always in a group during class, meals, and all the activities the interns organize afterwards whether they’re playing soccer, going for walks, chatting in the common room, or having Spanish conversation sessions.

But she also helped me realize that “the only person being hard on me is me.” All of the interns are inclusive, supportive, encouraging, understanding, and just downright nice. I guess I will only grow and change by stepping outside of my comfort zone in these ways.

It is a challenge every day, but that doesn’t mean I can’t and won’t be able to wake up every day and face that challenge. I always find running to be a good microcosm of life for me. Whenever I head out for a run in the morning, there are so many excuses running through my head, so many reasons I could conjure up to justify going back inside (it’s raining, there’s a stone in my shoe, a blister’s developing, I already ran yesterday). And while I’m running, I’m fighting the whole way to not stop before the length of time that I’ve set for myself. And the majority of the time, I get through it, and sometimes I’m even able to push myself further and run faster for a couple intervals. It seems that I have to have more faith in myself when it comes to daily life as well.

Antigonish

WOOOWW! Ahooooy from Antigonish, Nova Scotia! It’s been a whirlwind couple of days! I’m glad I’m typing this now, having gone through the first day of orientation. You should have seen me last night – I was tired, grumpy, homesick, feeling lost and confused, and every other imaginable negative feeling. Larry, you were probably right – that feeling of being overwhelmed was largely due to the fact that I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Let me first preface this blog and all other blogs with a note that I have been and will probably continue comparing this internship to my student exchange year in Japan. It’s an interesting comparison:

  1. My dad flew to Japan with me to help me settle in, but this time I’m on my own from day 1.
  2. In Japan, I had a VOIP phone and could phone whenever I pleased, but this time home will be less accessible, especially when I get to Peru.
  3. In Japan, I was mostly a passive recipient of knowledge as a student, but this time I’m actively trying to make a positive contribution to a developing community.
  4. In Japan, many of the other students spent a lot of time having fun and soaking up the scene and culture, but this time the students are all top-notch and duber mature, narrowed down from over 200 applicants. (Today, the coordinator mentioned how hard it was for her to choose the final batch and how we all have such amazing resumes, err… except mine maybe).
  5. In Japan, I was taking classes on topics I wasn’t particularly interested in, but this time my work is directly related to my passion, interests, and future goals.

I’m sure there are other contrasts I’ll think of later. To me, what’s more important are the comparisons I make on my attitudes and reactions to events during this trip as I consider these a measure of how much I have changed or am changing/growing. Take the airport goodbye, for example. The day I left for Japan, I was tearing up the entire last day and was not at all ready to leave yet. This time though, I didn’t even feel slightly teary until I hugged my brother goodbye, then each of my family members in turn. It was still a bawling session – goodbyes will probably always be really emotional for me – but it was more of a “I’ll miss you guys so much,” than a “please don’t let me go because I can’t do this without you.”

As another contrast, I spent three full days crying and hiding in my room when I got to Japan, instead of getting to know others in the dorm. I was fully dependent on phone calls home and made little effort to explore. This time, I was homesick for sure, but I was aware of how I felt and was able to compartmentalize a bit more. I really got to know the other interns and left the door of my room open the whole afternoon, which leads to tons of random chats. I’ve never really lived a dorm life like this before (in Japan, all the international students were pretty exclusive), and I’m kind of liking it.

The trip over was lengthy to say the least. Hadn’t slept all day, 7:30pm flight, stop-over in Calgary, red-eye flight (just learned this term – hoorah!) to Halifax, but rerouted to Moncton (New Brunswick) because of low visibility (apparently, this is common) for almost two hours! 40-minute bus ride to Halifax proper where I met Liz Ito (2 hours late) for fish & chips on the boardwalk, then met Maria (the other intern going with me to Peru) at the bus station for a 3-hour bus ride to Antigonish. THEN, when I got to the dorm, my keys wouldn’t work! It was probably all for the better though, because I was feeling duber sleepy and a little anti-social so the key fiasco gave me an excuse to stay at the dorm rather than go with everyone to the pub.

I went for a short run through Antigonish before hitting the hay and the city is beeeauutiful. The campus seems really new with all these big matching brick buildings connected by little pathways and fields. There are trees and more trees everywhere I turn and everyone is as friendly as people told me they’d be, smiling and waving as I jogged by. Houses are quaint and often have porches with wicker chairs; doors are wide open and welcoming.

I tried to soak it all in and appreciate the beauty, but I have to admit that I’m probably appreciating it more now that I’m writing about it because I was just feeling too overwhelmed and homesick last night. Even though I was tired, I lay in bed at 7pm and didn’t fall asleep for hours. I felt guilty for being anti-social and skipping out on pub night and getting to know the crowd, but I’m trying to find that balance between being the private person that I am, but still occasionally participating in the group, which is what our time here in Antigonish is partly about.

The first day of orientation went by so fast. It was a really good mix of introductions, icebreakers, group bonding, discussions, and other miscellaneous but important tasks. I liked how during one part, we separated into small groups and had discussions on guidelines/agreements for how we wanted to be as a group in the dorm, at school, and when making group decisions. Our ideas ranged from the classic “being respectful of others’ opinions” to more specific such as “washing dishes immediately after using them” and “sitting in a new seat each day” (so we get to know everyone). It seems like the simplest idea, to make group agreements and I’ve already been exposed to these from volunteering on the Child Psychiatry Unit during group therapy sessions, but I didn’t realise how powerful these agreements could be. Clarifying our expectations of each other really helped solidify the group.

We also had a tour of the Marie Michael library, which apparently, has the best collection of materials on international development in Canada. I’m so excited to have fallen into this field and can feel myself slowly growing more excited about development issues, especially being surrounded by and absorbing knowledge from all these great minds who are passionate about global health, sustainability, ending poverty, and other monumental issues that I would have never concerned myself with before this internship. I know so little.

All the interns going to Peru (there are four of us) are coming to my room for a Spanish session in a few minutes (as in, they speak and I will probably just listen, haha!) so I should probably sign off. Ciao!

Copyright © 2022 Samantha Bangayan | Sitemap | Disclosure Policy | Comment & Privacy Policy
All articles and photos in this blog are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.